Abraham, Rachel, Soren and Liam. Our life together in Smalltown, Idaho.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sitting on the Diamond Throne

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there was a young Indian prince named Siddhartha. The prince was raised with great pride by his father, a good king and fair ruler, who saw much potential in the boy and wanted him to be his successor. Siddhartha lived a very sheltered existence and grew up enjoying the many comforts and riches afforded to those of his caste. When, at the age of twenty-nine, he traveled unsupervised for the first time among his people, he discovered much sickness, sorrow, death, disease, and suffering in the world beyond the palace grounds. This troubled him immensely, so much that he felt compelled to leave his comfortable life and pursue a path of ascetic self-denial in an attempt to understand and overcome this suffering.

He spent many years studying meditation and engaging in extremely intense fasts. He had brought himself nearly to the point of starvation when he, weakened by hunger, nearly drowned while bathing in a stream. It was then that he realized that the path of strict asceticism would not take him where he wanted to go. And, in the words of the Buddhist monk Paramanda, this is what happened next:

"Once as a young boy he had been seated under a tree, watching his father plow a field, when he quite spontaneously entered into a state of great bliss and contentment. It now occurred to him that such a state might form the basis upon which a higher understanding could arise. So, having eaten, he seated himself under a tree, composed his body and his mind, and brought his powers of concentrated awareness to bear upon his examination of the human predicament.

"It is at this point that, according to Buddhist mythology, there arose a figure called Mara, 'the evil one,' who gathered together all his forces to try to prevent Siddartha from becoming the Buddha...In Buddhist art, Mara's forces are depicted as a vast army of strange and furious beings hurling all kinds of missiles at the prince, while he sits composed and undisturbed. As the rocks and arrows come close to the prince's body they are transformed into beautiful blossoms and fall harmlessly around the majestic figure.

"After the failure of his attack, Mara tried a different approach to turn the prince's mind away from the task it was resolved upon. Mara tried to instill a sense of doubt in his mind by questioning his right to be seated on the "Diamond Throne,' the central point from which the whole universe unfolded...

"In reply the prince extended his right arm and touched the earth with the tips of his fingers.

"What happens next is quite wonderful. The goddess of the earth rises up out of the ground and testifies that the prince is indeed rightfully seated on the Diamond Throne, by virtue of his own great effort. She testifies that she has seen Siddhartha, throughout many lifetimes, develop to the point of perfection all the positive qualities of the human being-- qualities of generosity, patience, energy, kindness, and awareness. At this testimony, Mara is completely undone and flees in dismay."

And Siddhartha, having achieved Nirvana, became the Buddha.

Pretty interesting, eh? I am particularly taken by this story because it so resembles a story from my own (Mormon) religious tradition.

Are you ready for another?

Once upon a time there was a young American farm boy named Joseph. At fourteen years old he became deeply concerned with religion and began a sincere search among the Christian faiths he encountered in Upstate New York. He encountered what he described as a confusing array of conflicting religious ideas and strong feelings from their respective proponents.

In his words:

"At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to 'ask of God,' concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture.

"So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.

"After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.

"But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction--not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being--just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.

"It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which help me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air."

And Joseph Smith, having had a vision, became the Prophet.

So why am I sharing this with you?

Frankly, I don't know.

My strongest tendency when it comes to religion is to remain completely neutral, acknowledge the validity of all religious (and non-religious) perspectives, and to never, ever, ever express my own religious feelings, beliefs, or ideas. This is partially because I don't want to offend or alienate anyone. It is largely because I don't have very many concrete opinions in such matters. And, honestly, it is also because I don't want to come across as foolish, childish, or naive when it comes to my worldview.

But this shared motif--the dark power unleashing all its furious strength right before a moment of great enlightenment-- speaks to me on a very personal level because I've experienced the darkness; in fact, I experience it nearly every time I kneel down to pray.

I hate to pray. Hate it. There are a million things I would rather do--such as having a tooth extracted or cleaning a subway restroom-- than kneel down and attempt to pray.

But I know I need to, right? I go to church every Sunday, I insist on family prayers morning and night, I pay 10 percent of my income to the church. I do this because there is a part of me, the core part of me, that feels that it is right. That it is good. That, every once in a while, feels bathed in the comfort of God's love and wants to keep moving towards that love, towards the Being from which it comes. Every once in a while I'll be sitting in a sacrament meeting or a Relief Society lesson and I will suddenly be aware of myself as a creature of light, attached to these other humans, these other beings of light. I have a sense that we are all an essential part of something much larger, something that makes so much more sense than this garbled world we live in. I go to church because church helps remind me of this bigger thing, this greater love.

But I would like to be more connected. I can't base my entire life--particularly the things I teach my children--on something I only half-connect with. I'd like to build my faith, to become more committed, more fully believing. And I realize that the primary way for me to do this is to pray. The foundation of all things religious is that personal connection with Deity, something that must be nurtured through prayer. But I can't pray. There's a block. I utter the first words and am immediately swept away by a sea of uncomfortable emotions and thoughts.

Let me try to explain what it is that is so for me difficult about praying.

We Mormons have a kind of loose prayer template that is outlined in a song I learned as a child:

I kneel to pray, every day
I speak with Heavenly Father

He hears and answers me

When I pray in faith.


I begin by saying, "Our Heavenly Father."

I thank him for blessings he sends.
Then humbly I ask him for things that I need.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen

Simple enough, eh?

And if I just push through without thinking about it too hard, I can do it. I can say a prayer just like that. A pretty good one, even. But I can't ever go too long without thinking about it, and that's where I get all jacked up. My prayer thought processes are usually something along these lines:

I begin by saying, "Our Heavenly Father."

Just saying the words makes me feel vulnerable. Partly, I think, because I associate the name "Heavenly Father" with the primary teachers who taught me about the gospel in Primary classes when I was a kid. It makes me feel like a child....trusting, weak, naive.

It's here that I will also occasionally fall into spasms of feminist indignation and start feeling furious about the whole God-as-Man thing, wishing that I could connect with a being who understood the uniqueness of my life as a woman, my experiences as a mother.

I'll push past that, however, and spend some time trying to visualize this Being with whom I am speaking, gain some sort of grasp on His personhood so I can make a viable connection with Him. And I can conjure up all kinds of wonderful images and personalities, but I can't decide if those are real impressions of this Invisible Deity, or if they're just fond wishes of my imaginative heart. My true fear is that, despite my fondest hopes and spiritual experiences, God is the angry controlling manipulator I generally find in the scriptures. And that fear is rather alienating.

I thank him for blessings he sends.

Here I hit another roadblock.

Don't get me wrong: I am keenly aware of the many things in my life that are good, and for which I am deeply grateful. I am happy to list these things and highlight anything special that happened to me during the day that was particularly special. Right now I can tell you how thankful I am for my healthy children, my kind husband, my cozy house, my job. I can tell you that I am thankful to live in a place that is quite safe,where I enjoy many freedoms, in a home that has hot running water and electricity. I am thankful for the family I came from and the family I married into. I am thankful for the bed in which I sleep, for the computer I am writing this on. I am thankful for my health. I am thankful for my mind. And on and on. I really am very grateful for all that I have and realize that I am, in all things that truly matter, rich.

But I'm not so sure these things have come from God. They may have, but they may not have, and I feel silly saying thanks for something God didn't give me. Some might argue that God has given us everything we have. If that is the case, however, then I wonder what it was that motivated God to grant me so much abundance when there are mothers who can't feed afford to feed their own children, when there are fathers who have to leave their families to fight in wars, when there are little ones who are unspeakably abused and heartlessly neglected. To say that God gives us all good things seems to be a slap across these already-bruised faces.

I generally push past this part too, though, by simply stating to God that I am grateful for these things, without"giving thanks" for them, per se.

Then humbly I ask him for things that I need.

There are so many issues with this one I'm not sure when to start.

First, I hate to ask God for anything because I don't want to feel angry if it doesn't come through. When I asked God to please comfort my sick baby, he seemed to sit by in silence. That stung. A lot. And I want to ask God to heal the world, to save all the children from truly horrible things, to feed the hungry. But I've done that before. Lots of people have. And he hasn't.

And then I think about praying for people I know who need things or who are going through a hard time. I want to pray for each of the children I encounter through my job, children who are going through things that no child should have to endure, things I feel powerless to prevent, but I doubt it would do any good. Like, if God doesn't care enough about these children to do something for them without being prompted, why would he suddenly take interest when I request he do so? So I don't. But then I feel angry.

And I realize there's probably some Grand Scheme Reason for God's not responding to these requests, but it does make me wonder why I'm even asking for stuff. If God's going to do whatever He wants to do anyway, why am I even wasting my breath? And if God's not good enough to give these people the things they need without being asked, why am I worshiping Him?

I do recognize that a lot of these issues are perhaps just a lack of understanding on my part. I do. So I'll still continue onward. Usually what I end up doing is simply asking for help in becoming a better person and in finding opportunities to serve others. And it is at this point that I become completely overwhelmed by a keen awareness of all my many weaknesses and faults--and by a terrible fear that God is going to ask me to do more, to give more, to be more. I am already trying my damndest to do my very best, I think, and I can't stand the thought of being asked to do anything else, to try harder, to give more, to become better. I can't carry any more burdens. I can't. So it is at this point that I completely give up in despair, and move quickly on to the closing:

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

And there are issues there, too. But the whole Jesus thing is a story for another day.

The point is that I have a bit of a darkness gathered around me, a Mara questioning my right to sit on the Diamond Throne, to kneel in the sacred grove, to call on God. I imagine that there are many other people who do, too. But Siddhartha--by extending his fingers to the earth--and Joseph--by calling out in prayer--were able to summon the powers of goodness to fight off the enemy, to disperse the darkness.

I hope to do the same. With patience, with practice, with persistence, with a calm refusal to submit to the darkness, the light will come. I believe the light will come.

22 comments:

Leslie said...

What beautiful honesty, Rachel. I think that if anyone thinks about these things long enough, they'll realize that they feel some of the same misgivings, the same perplexities. And I don't know that there's anything any mortal can say to completely belie those concerns. So I end up in a similar place where you find yourself: I acknowledge that I do not understand everything, that God's ways and thoughts are not my ways and thoughts. It takes a lot of trust, and trust without full understanding/disclosure doesn't come easy for some people (myself included). Until more understanding comes (and who knows how long that will take), I cling to the things I AM sure of: that God knows me and loves me--I have felt overwhelming assurances of this too often to deny it--and that following his way brings me lasting joy and happiness (though not an absence of pain and sorrow).

If we let him, Satan would happily trap us in the darkness of our doubts. I think our safety lies in what you suggest--calmly refusing to submit to the darkness. Pushing forward with patience, practice, and persistence.

Thank you for this.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rachel. Long time, no see. You're a dang good writer and I enjoyed this post. Would it help to think of God as something like Jeffrey R. Holland--double chin and all? This might dispel the fear that He's angry and manipulative.
The light WILL come, whether gradually like the sunrise or suddenly like flipping a switch (to steal analogies from Elder Bednar). Did you notice how, when they weren't telling marriagable men to get married, all the speakers at conference were talking about testimonies? How some of us know, but don't know that we know, certain things?

This message brought to you from,
Yer Notsolocal Gen'ral Conf'rence Fanatic aka Suz

Rachel said...

Leslie, thanks for your comment. I, too, have experienced God's love, and it is good.

Suz! It's been forever! Thanks to you for commenting too. General Conference was great. I'm looking forward to listening to the talks again.

Jennifer said...

Rachel, this post is quite a realization to read. I think you put into words your brother was not able to tell me oh so many years ago. You, my friend, are not alone in your feelings. I am grateful for the older, more experienced members of my ward for stating that the best prayers they have had in their lifetimes did not contain any words...they described them as "the yearnings of our hearts." Some of my best prayers begin with, "Can you feel what is in my heart?" Then I wait for my heart to pour out all my burdens, sorrows, and joys, and I let my spirit do the communicating.

Let's face it, I'm pretty barbaric and wouldn't know how to talk to member of the royal courts let alone a member of deity. So, when I step back and let my heart do the talking everything else works out. Granted this all sounds lovely on paper, like this is how I communicate during every prayer....no way, no how. Just when I really give myself to the lord do I really find him.

You are a good woman, with a heart bigger than your little frame can hold.

Scott said...

Really loved this post. I understand exactly where you're coming from. I've been trying to think how I could respond and even offer (brace yourself) some encouragement.

Jen is absolutely right; prayer was always a huge obstacle for me, and certainly contributed to my eventual loss of faith in God. While I can remember a few brief periods of my life when I really felt like I was doing something worthwhile in the prayer department, for the remainder it was a completely empty exercise and a took concerted effort and sheer force of will to pray whatsoever. There were entire years when I didn't engage in a meaningful, regular practice of personal prayer. I'm sure some would be happy to seize on this as a convenient explanation of where I "failed" in my spiritual quest and why it's all my fault for not being faithful enough, but of course I see things a little differently.

I think the biggest obstacle was that I am, above all, a practical person. I highly value critical thinking and a healthy dose of skepticism. I want to understand the reasons behind things and have at least a general understanding of what's going to happen if I do steps A, B, and C. To put it simply, prayer was advertised as having certain benefits and providing certain outcomes that simply never materialized, and I wasn't OK with that. And I certainly wasn't apathetic about it. It was of great concern to me and I spent a lot of time and effort wrestling with the problem and making various attempts to rectify the situation. I'm not a particularly emotional person and could count on one hand the number of times I've shed tears since I was a teenager, but I'll admit a couple of those occasions were due to sheer frustration about prayer and the lack of communication with God.

I recognize that for some people, prayer is wonderful and enriching and plays an important role in their spiritual life, and I don't begrudge that in any way. In fact, like any good UU, it warms my heart to hear that someone has discovered a source of personal solace and meaning. However, I do think it should be recognized that some people just don't "get it" and it doesn't mean they're broken or sinful or faithless. It may just be a personality and temperament thing. It may be a matter of tastes and preferences. It may be the result of education or life experiences. It may be the lack of the (figurative or literal) "God gene."

Why should prayer (or religion for that matter) be so one-size-fits-all? We recognize the vast diversity of experience in every other aspect of human life. Some people are musically gifted; others can't hold a pitch. Some people are scholars; others create wonders with their hands. Some people hate being the center of attention; others thrive on it. Some people love country living; other people would give their right arm for a 500 sq. ft. apartment in Manhattan.

People take so many different paths which can be just as fulfilling for them as prayer and faith in a traditional God are for others. Is it so wrong to suggest that if prayer hasn't worked despite so many years and tears, it's time to shop around? I'm not saying atheism is the only alternative, because I guarantee many a pew is filled with people who get by just fine without prayer. There are vast swaths of believers who simply don't need or expect to have this sort of "personal relationship" with the divine, at least not in the sense of daily, verbal conversation.

If you feel the need for contemplation and ritual expressions of gratitude, there are so many ways to go about it that won't make you feel like a fake or a failure. Why not trust yourself and give something else a try?

Collette Smith said...

Maybe I'm just pointing out the obvious here, but it seems to me that Rachel's forced prayer-march = Siddhartha's fasting and ascetism.

A wise guy (Benjamin Franklin? Einstein?)once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

What do you think would happen if you just stopped making yourself pray? Do you really think that prayer is the only thing keeping you you from total darkness and chaos? Don't you believe in your own goodness? Perhaps this is Mara--this feeling of being undeserving and insufficient.

It is the opinion of this subversive free-thinker that, more often than not, real worship occurs in the manner in which we conduct our daily lives--kind of a walking meditation. For you, stuff like going to work and doing your best there, teaching/ loving/disciplining/caring for/playing with your children, your quiet acts of kindness and generosity, a hug, a smile, a gentle touch, a kind word, a meal lovingly prepared, going to church, making your home a place of refuge for your family and others, taking care of yourself, feeling gratitude and giving thanks where thanks are due, driving courteously, buying groceries for your family, paying bills on time--all of these are small daily sacrifices upon the alter of life, your way of showing just what it is that you value and what it is that you worship and what it is that you hold dear. And they do add up to something big and tangible.

So why waste any more time and energy self-flagellating? Just find your tree and sit under it.

I think you may already be there.

Collette Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lara said...

So many thoughts...as I was reading the tale of the Buddha I kept thinking about the similarities to Joseph Smith before you pointed them out. So cool.

Also...it is so good to know I am not the only one who struggles with prayer. I love it and resent it simultaneously. I pray for the stupidest things, but leave the big things unsaid. I think I am afraid of what that will do to me if they go unanswered.

My sister (a former RS pres) went through 5 miscarriages before giving birth and that experience "taught" her that it is no use to ask for things. You ask...and you don't get. You don't ask and you may or may not get. I understand her pain, and I ache for pain. It's hard. It's hard to face the hard answers. It's hard not to have any answers. It's hard to feel vulnerable. It's hard to feel blessed.

thanks for your honesty.

Kate said...

You have a lot of important questions and I appreciate your writing about it. I'm sure you will find your own answers in time to all of these. I'm only commenting because I recently read something that, for me, made clear at least one of your concerns--and also helped me understand the purpose of, "pray for me" or "everybody pray for so and so" requests. I've always assumed, if God wants to bless someone with something, He can and He will. How does *my* praying for it change anything?

In the Bible Dictionary under "Prayer" it states,

"The object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that are made conditional on our asking for them."

I can't say anything in regards to whether that is "fair" or not, and I personally don't even wonder--I believe God is fair, in His own way, but I also know I can't begin to understand His way in that regard.

But, it helped me understand better my purpose in praying for blessings. And why people say prayer is so powerful. It never made sense to me before. But if God is just WANTING to bless someone, waiting to--but He is requiring us to have the experience of exercising our faith and calling upon Him for those blessings--well then I certainly am powerful--I do have an effect. Not to change God's will--but to allow him to exercise it.

Why would he make exercising his own will conditional upon the faith and actions of mortals?

There are probably many better answers, but my first thought is: Because it's for our good. I know for sure that my faith and relationship with God is strengthened when I pray for something. Just when I pray sincerely--I don't even have to wait for the blessings to come to pass. I think He wants for us to have those experiences.

If prayer is a challenge for you now, know that God is mindful of this. In time, as you continue to live His gospel to the best you are able, He will make "weak things become strong" unto you.

I hope I don't sound to preachy. :)

Kate said...

*too. ack!

Leslie said...

P.S. I don't want to sound preachy either, and I know that you didn't write this post because you wanted advice, but I can't help sharing a link to a talk that has had a huge impact on my perspective of faith. I used to struggle BIG TIME with the issue of praying sincerely for something and then seeing it not work out at all the way I wanted it to--or even (I thought) NEEDED it to. I felt like, "What is the point of asking? If it's not God's will, it's not going to happen anyway, and I'm not sure my seedling of faith can survive that kind of blow." (I was aware of the Bible Dictionary definition as well, but it didn't help at that time [though it has helped at other times].) Anyway, a year or so ago I came across a talk by Dennis E. Simmons of the Seventy. It's called "But If Not..." Maybe you've read it already. But just in case:

http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=6ba0d9cbdb01c010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&hideNav=1

Anonymous said...

Hey Rachel, this is Asa.

My two cents on this pretty much sums up to this, that everybody comes to a point in their life where they realize they don't know if the Church is true, or if Joseph Smith was a prophet, or if God is real, or anything that is one of the main doctrines of this church. I think that it at that point when the rest of their lives hang in balance that they can choose to believe or not to believe. I remember I was there, and I chose to believe and live this church and screw the consequences. I think that is when we gain our strongest testimony yet of whatever is bothering us. Abe went through the same thing with Joseph Smith, and I can honestly say I have never met anybody with a stronger testimony. so yeah, hang in there Rachel, and be patient. I know it's annoying and hard to be patient, but hey, I think Celestial glory is worth it.

Karen said...

Wow so many great things have been said. I've actually been thinking about this post a lot mainly because I wanted to say something but I wasn't sure what.

I have to say that I experienced all the same things you mentioned. I have struggled with prayer my entire life. I remember feeling guilty as a child for not praying every night (as I was sure all the other children were). I too had times where I consistently prayed but it never seemed to improve my resolve to do so. And I never felt like I was getting more answers even though the prayers were accompanied by sincere listening and scriptures, etc. More importantly I never really felt like my relationship with God improved.

I remember making so many big decisions and praying about them first (as I was taught) and never feeling like I had an answer. It was always just me talking to myself. No "burning in the bosom" or anything of the sort. In fact it was more of the "stupor of thought"... even when praying about such things as whether the Book of Mormon was true. So, ultimately I took the church's advice and decided if God didn't tell me it was true, then maybe it wasn't.

I guess I'm getting a little sidetracked on the topic. But I guess I stopped physically knealing down to pray after the lack of an answer (or even comfort really) in the darkest point of my life. I think I sort of pray in my head and/or talk to God sometimes when I'm driving or just thinking about things on a daily basis. Even that seems to be disappearing these days. Once I stopped blaming myself for the lack of answers and just took hold of the reins in my life, all the guilt and frustration and feelings that I wasn't good enough went away. I don't need an answer from God to feel like I'm a good person.

Anyway, that is just my experience, and as Scott said, there is no cookie cutter way that will work for everyone. The hard truth is that everybody has to find something that works for them and that process isn't exactly easy. Keep at it.

Seth said...

Hey Rach,

I read your post about a week ago but I basically felt I had nothing worthwhile to say about it. But... everyone else seems to be chiming in so I guess I will too.

Have you ever read the book Siddartha by Herman Hesse? In that book he retells the familiar story of prince who leaves everything behind, chooses a harsh ascetic lifestyle, and ultimately finds enlightenment. This is when he becomes the Buddha. That is where the story typically ends but Herman tells what Paul Harvey would call 'the rest of the story'. (And don’t ask me where Herman gets his information.) Basically, Siddartha eventually finds that 'enlightenment' is not all its cracked up to be, abandons the lifestyle, and goes in completely the opposite direction. He indulges in everything from sex to food to money. He becomes extremely wealthy and powerful and - for a time - he thinks he has found happiness. But eventually, he grows dissatisfied and one day he leaves and never comes back. After some days of walking, he comes to a river where he meets an old man who operates the ferry. Long story short, he ends up taking up the ferry operator occupation and finally finds contentment in living a very humble, simple life next to the river. (Vastly simplified, maybe you could read it for yourself.)

But anyway, as the humble ferry boat operator he shuttles all sorts of people back and forth across the river. And quite frequently he shuttles young men who all dress and groom themselves in a similar manner and who all claim to be searching for 'the enlightened one' - the Buddha. (Basically little Siddartha clones.) Little did they know that they were talking to the very man they were searching for. Anyway, the moral of the story is that people need to find their own path to 'enlightenment'. People who think they can find it by following the exact path of someone else are likely to be disappointed. What works for one does not necessarily work for all.

As for your praying difficulties, I don't pretend to fully understand your struggles. I appreciate your honesty and your attempt to convey whatever it that is bothering you. As for me, praying always felt like a very unnatural thing to do. In fact, I remember when I was growing up that I could easily go for months without every saying a personal prayer. And you know what? I was just fine. Happy as a clam. It wasn't until I started seminary that I realized what a horrible sinner I was and that I had better start praying. Anyway, if it helps you then great. At the very least, taking a quiet moment to yourself and thinking things through - or even talking them through - certainly isn't going to do any harm. Nowadays, I don't pray. Why should I? I feel like if God has something to say to me then he can say it any old time he wants and I'd be more than happy to hear him.

(Part 1 of 2)

Seth said...

Look, when it comes to religion. I can't help but notice how arbitrary it is. I mean, maybe you are different than me but I know that if I was born in Vietnam - like many of my coworkers - I would be bonkers for Buddha - just like they are. If I had been born in Georgia, I'd probably be a bible-thumping Baptist. And if - God forbid - I'd been born in Saudi Arabia, I'd be bowing down to Mecca five times a day like this other guy I used to work with. So to me, being Mormon is entirely a function of where I was born. Now, I know that we are taught to believe that we were born where we were born because we were so much better and worthier than other, lesser souls in the preexistence. To me, this is nonsense but you are certainly entitled to believe it if you so choose.

Anyway, I agree with Collette. If you want to find peace and happiness, sooner or later you are just going to have to let go of everything you thought you knew and start trusting yourself. Sure its scary - especially at first - but I can guarantee that you'll eventually find that you are already a very good, giving, loving, and all-around wonderful person. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination of course, perfection is not what I'm talking about here. All I'm saying is that you need to get to a place where you truly believe that you are 'OK' just they way you are. That is the starting point and everything else can be built up from there.

Anyway, you shared some of your thoughts so I shared some of mine. Good luck. :-)

Anonymous said...

I could say a lot of things here, but I won't. If you really want to hear my wind-bagging (and I do enjoy wind-bagging), send me an email about it.

I just want to say that I sure love my Rachel, and I know she is worthy to sit on that diamond throne. I'm sure of it.

Abe

heidi said...

Oh, Lordy, Rachel, I felt awed by your bravery in writing this and I just feel... moved beyond words by the comments you inspired. People must love and trust you a lot to write such vulnerable, heartfelt words... Lara, I think, wrote that "It's hard not to have the answers. It's hard to feel vulnerable" and I am SO touched by people reaching out to you in such vulnerability, trying to sit with you in the place of having no firm answers, or of humbly offering you their personal private piece of whatever answer comforts them.

I too am extremely reluctant to share when it comes to spiritual things. To the extent that I have HIDDEN my readings--taken them off the bookshelves in public rooms of our house--so people won't see them! HA! But when you come from a tradition that says there is ONE RIGHT way--and so many of us do--it's hard to be public about following your own, Unauthorized one. Uh-oh (to quote Liam)--what was my point? Oh! That my own feelings about sharing on spiritual matters make me that much more moved and impressed that you shared like this.

A few things jumped out at me, I'm not sure why:

*The phrase "all the positive qualities of the human being" and the list that followed: "qualities of generosity, patience, energy, kindness, and awareness." And it struck me with such force--it just jumped out at me--that these adjectives--along with the word "radiance" seem to so accurately describe YOU.

*I laughed aloud, as they say, at your mental "asides" where you energetically argue with aspects of the prayer format. My favorite begins with "feminist indignation."

*I ADORE Scott's theory of the possibility of there being a "God gene." Being married to a scientifically-minded man myself... one who is also quite tolerant of others' myriad views and behaviors... gosh, I just adored this theory. A person who would come up with such a concept sounds like a fine logician with great heart...

(Part 1)

heidi said...

Continuing...

*I love that so many people said, You're good! Trust yourself!

*What Karen wrote... just feels to me extremely, extremely sincere.

*Seth's story--I was taken with the part where the hi-falutin' seekers of Siddhartha ended up TALKING TO THE MAN HIMSELF in humble disguise! They had arrived at their destination and didn't even know it! That seems like another theme.

*It occurs to me... that although Mormons and evangelical Christians are encouraged to give their testimony, that people who are not part of such structures generally are more reluctant to share and... Hmm. I guess that duh, you already know that... So I guess I'm mentioning it (again!) just to honor their courageous and caring efforts. I think this is the first time I've envied you having a blog.

And, you know what? I who often have so much to say of a personal nature? Can't do it this time. I think that's what makes me all the more impressed with what people were willing to share. Me the most reticent! Gotta be a first.

Final two bits:

*"I know she is worthy to sit on the diamond throne. I am sure of it." !! I've tried several times to comment on this and I just sound like an idiot. I honor this statement AND it makes me melt, AND weirdly, it somehow makes me momentarily feel like concepts don't even matter. (heresy for me)

*For some reason, and I'm not sure why, maybe this is an intuitive connection--but what you have written reminds me of... let's see, maybe you've heard it! It's... from this American Life... it's the heartfelt stories of a Catholic woman, a comedian, studying her faith and grappling with it... Damn, I don't remember the name. Will look it up.

This post, the comments, all of it is so beautiful. I feel like so many people would be helped by hearing what you're describing... I myself am very curious what further steps and struggles and tentative truths will occur in your path. I hope you will continue to share.

heidi said...

Julia Sweeney is the name I couldn't remember. I think you would like her stuff--she has performance pieces that I think can be found on her website, as well as stories on This American Life. I also thought Scott and Seth would like her stories, too.

clifton said...

Rachel,I hope that you don't mind that I read your posts but they are well written, deep thinking and always honest.You are a gifted writer. I think that if we are honest with ourselves we all question our beliefs,decisions and choices; and as we evaluate these things in our lives that we sometimes wonder why we have made them.
When we see someone struggling with the loss of a child,dealing with disease,earthquakes or whatever challenges we may have; I often wonder why this happens. I'm afraid that I too don't understand everything; it's okay to question why. I feel that the important aspect is that we search for the answers to the questions. Some may find the answers through prayer,some through friends and family, some through the scriptures,or maybe through personal meditation or a walk alone through the woods.I believe these are all ways that Heavenly Father reaches us.
A submarine captain who was one of the first to travel under the polar ice caps and who had seen much adversity in his career carried this saying with him

"I believe I am always guided.
I believe I will always take the right road.
I believe God will always make a way where there is no way"

Rachel we love you for who you are
clifton hambrick





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Anonymous said...

Hi Rachel,
I apologize in advance for giving advice. It's my Advice Gene. This is strange because I also possess a Can't Stand Unsolicited Advice Gene. Hope you escaped that genetic calamity, because here goes!
Here's a quote from my Good Quote Book by Elder Seventy in a random Ensign article, "Your successes highlight your gifts; your disappointments help you learn your limitations and identify areas to work on." (Robert C. Oaks Apr. 2008 p.48)
I have had the best success with prayer when I have been completely humble. Doesn't happen very often. But the experiences I had have never left me.
Also, reading David's heart-rending pleas for mercy in Psalms helped me understand prayer.
Love to you and your Fantastic Family,
Natalya

Rachel said...

Wow. I must say that I am completely amazed that so many of you actually read the entire post. I hit "publish," looked it over, and thought, "Well, even if it's offensive, it's okay, because no one is going to be patient enough to read the whole thing."

But not only did you read, you commented! Good comments! Loving, full, thought-filled comments!

My hugs and gratitude to each one of you for your insights and encouragement.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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